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Back in the ’80s there was a lot of talk about the Japanese business model of putting employees first and reaping the benefits that cascaded from that — especially increased productivity and satisfied customers. I remember being a teenager when I first became aware of the idea. I’d already started an illustrious career in fast food, so I knew a thing or two about being an employee who didn’t seem to matter to anyone. When I heard about the employees-first approach, it made complete sense to me.
After all, when I worked for someone who seemed to really care about me, I thrived. I bent over backward for that business and dreaded the day I had to move on to my next job. But when I worked for a company where I was clearly just a cog in the wheel who was expected to be thrilled simply to receive a paycheck, I was far less committed. I still did my job, but I wasn’t using my creativity — except to look for another gig.
So why, more than 30 years later, hasn’t Western culture come around? Tons of reasons, all of which don’t matter here because market forces may be about to turn the idea of considering employees first into a have-to-have rather than a nice-to-have for employers who want to stay in business. Bold statement? Maybe … but employment levels are at all-time highs, so the talent war has never been more fierce. And more and more of us are finding ways to make money that don’t culminate in a yearly W-2 from our employer. Technology has enabled a lot of this entrepreneurship, allowing workers to compete for gigs from their living rooms. Bottom line, companies don’t hold all the power anymore. People have options.
So how do companies stay competitive and not only retain employees but inspire candidates to commit to their mission and work of the company? The answer is so simple it’s a bit tough to swallow: Treat them like customers. Here are five easy tips to do just that:
Tip #1 – Ask employees what they want. The HR Insights firm, Peakon, recently released a study on why employees quit their jobs. The results — based on 34 million responses from 36,000 employees around the world — showed that employees don’t leave because of too much work; they leave because of too much uninspiring work. Not only that, they give a nine month window that leads up to them pulling the trigger on quitting.
For sure, part of the burden is on the employee to know what they want in the first place. But you wouldn’t expect to run a successful business without talking to customers and assessing their needs and wants. So why do we keep ignoring or minimizing the importance of doing the same with our staff?
The most frequent push-back I get from managers is that they don’t want to get employees’ hopes up since they can’t give out raises or promotions. They couldn’t be more wrong. First of all, having the dialogue isn’t about taking requests; it’s about understanding where the other person is coming from and what they hope to achieve. Second, pay and promotion aren’t the only carrots you have as a manager. Knowing what the individual ultimately wants to do opens the door to being creative about job assignments and the tasks you delegate to them.
Tip #2 – Make it easy for employees to share their feedback. Companies contort themselves to make it simple for customers to share their thoughts. (“Death by customer-satisfaction survey” is gonna be a thing soon, trust me.) Yet employers make it relatively difficult for their employees to speak up. Even without the fear of being reprimanded for saying the wrong thing (which exists), there are literally very few avenues for employees to share feedback where they feel they will be heard. That last part is important. As Kasper Hulthin, co-founder of Peakon, told me, “Employees don’t take a survey to give feedback; they take a survey to be heard.
Though more and more companies are using employee engagement surveys, many don’t follow up, letting the power and goodwill dissipate. Because neither comes just from the asking, but from ensuring employees see the impact of their feedback. Peakon has a feature that blows the old suggestion box out of the water. An anonymous chat feature lets employees share feedback without being identified and — here’s the amazing part — almost immediately hear back from leadership. Employers can use this chat feature to build a culture where employees and managers grow more and more comfortable having authentic dialogue with one another. Sure, face-to-face conversations are the ideal, but in the meantime, what a great way to create an in-the-moment feedback culture that engages employees and managers.
Tip #3 – Be open to discussing pricing, aka “pay,” with your employees. The concept of employees being able to comfortably discuss their pay is hard for some employers to fathom. Here’s where the Peakon study provides some more insight. It showed that employees don’t quit because they believe they are paid unfairly; they quit because they feel they can’t even discuss pay in the first place.
Can you imagine telling a customer that they can’t know what other customers are paying for the same product? That they just have to trust that they are getting a fair shake. Or penalizing them for discussing pricing with other customers? Yet employees are expected to swallow exactly these conditions when it comes to their own livelihoods. It’s more than a bit ridiculous.
Good companies are transparent about what they’re willing to pay for particular services, roles, and performance. On the other hand, firms that shroud their compensation practices in secrecy often pay the price by having to deal with a perception of biased and inconsistent reward practices, not to mention the legal risk of favoritism and lack of diversity.
Tip #4 – Train managers how to provide good employee service. Not every company is ready to deploy a high-tech chat solution like that provided by Peakon. In the meantime, simply holding managers accountable for how they lead and ensuring they are comfortable receiving feedback from staff as a normal course of business sends a strong message that all employees matter and that the company considers the people manager role as its own profession, with its own performance indicators, just like any other job.
Tip #5 – Train employees to know how to run their career like business people. Investing in employee development is critical. And that investment should be built on a foundation of creating a culture of business owners, regardless of levels. When employees view themselves as business owners, they are more proactive and resourceful. They aren’t looking for their manager to be everything to them. Instead, they are treating their manager and the business as their primary customer.
Imagine everyone engaging one another from a place of “how do we do good business together?” and “how do I provide you the best service that keeps you coming back for more?” That’s a recipe for a thriving workplace, business, and economy.
April 16, 2019 at 02:59PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs